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Singled Out

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New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Qixi, Christmas… The year is filled with a plethora of dates which encourage and celebrate ‘coupledom’. These occasions only seem to emphasise the belief that being in a relationship equals happiness, fulfilment and personal success, whereas those who remain unattached are faced with a lonely, bitter and unhappy holiday.

Despite the fact that we now live in a time in which we are able to drop a man from outer space and safely land him back on Earth, the views that people have when it comes to love, relationships and marriage remain patently unchanged.

Love songs, movies, and magazines seem to drum into people the message that being single is something to be avoided, and hunting for the love of our lives is what we all should be doing. But now, more and more people are choosing to rebel. Some say that we are now living in the golden age of the single person. Fewer people are willing to settle for a ‘good enough’ partner simply because they are at marrying age, and more and more people are opting to live alone. More people are choosing careers over marriage and children.

For women, this has hailed the onset of a revolution. Each time a woman chooses her career over marriage, feminists around the world salute them with their two-fingered victory signs. However, are these women simply deluded in thinking they can have it all – the career, the relationship and the family?

No matter how far up the career ladder a woman might be able to climb, she can not ignore the ticking time bomb of her child-bearing years. The longer she puts off having children, the less likely it is of happening at all. Nature, it seems, is feminism’s greatest nemesis.

The real tragedy is that despite how accomplished a woman may be in her career, she will not escape being labelled a ‘spinster’ or ‘old maid’ if she makes it to middle-age sans a ring on her finger. Even in the world’s most developed countries, there is still a deep-seated belief that being in a couple equates to ultimate success. TV shows such as “Sex and the City”, which at first appear to champion the single woman, eventually turn out to be a drawn-out quest in finding ‘the one’.

In China the importance of settling down and starting a family, however, is less ambiguous. Whereas in many western countries, a single woman blowing out the candles on her 35th birthday cake will be urged to ‘make haste’, 35 is already considered to be dangerous territory in China. Ideally, a woman in China should be married and settled before she hits the age of 30.

According to a survey conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation, - the organisation founded to further women’s rights — out of 30,000 men, more than 90 per cent said women should marry before 27 to avoid becoming “unwanted”. Part of this stems from the belief that these are prime years for bearing children.  But, the dominate view is the value that Chinese men place on youth and looks.

As the country develops and more modern Chinese women choose to pursue their careers, China has given birth to a new cultural phenomenon. Unfortunately these uber successful and ambitious women are not yet compatible with the traditional culture embedded in the Chinese psyche. Rather than having a number of suitors at their beck and call, these so-called Shengnu, or ‘forgotten women’, are single and hopeless.  As Roseann Lake writes in her article, ‘All the Shengnu Ladies’, “In China, there is a deep-seated tradition of marriage hypergamy which mandates that a woman must marry up. This generally works out, as it allows the Chinese man to feel superior, and the woman jumps a social class or two, but it gets messy for highly accomplished females.” For a culture in which men crave superiority, it has become much more likely for males to shy away from attractive and highly-accomplished women in favour of younger, more ‘manageable’ females. Therefore, the pressure is on to make the ultimate choice; a career or a family.

So what of the men? Do they also face such condemnation for their single status, or is single life a breeze for them? As we all know, an unmarried, middle-aged woman will be labelled a spinster or old maid, while an unmarried man will be called a bachelor or a ‘real catch’. However, while single men may seem to get off lightly, they face the same societal pressures and fears as women. 

To a certain extent, the lines between classes in the West can be blurred; in Chinese society, they remain fixed and in place. Due to the widening gap between the rich and the poor, marrying down is uncommon and doubtful. Because it’s expected that women will marry up, that’s exactly what most women in both urban and rural areas do. Rural girls will migrate to bigger cities, find better jobs, and marry men in higher classes. But where does this leave the rural men? With little money and their lower class status, it’s unlikely that a woman will want to marry them because they cannot offer potential wives and her families enough security. These men have become known as “guan gun” or “bare branches,” and remain at the rock bottom of the marriage chain.

Despite these harrowing negatives, an increasing number of people are living alone than ever before. Statistics published by the Daily Mail in 2009 showed that at the beginning of the 20th century, one-person households represented at least 30 per cent of all households in most northern European countries. So why is it that more people are choosing to be alone?

When it comes to all the heartache and risk which comes hand in hand with relationships and marriage, being single seems like an underrated carefree option. Experts even say that being single is good for your health. Not only do single people have healthier finances, thanks to not having to fork out an average of 200,000 yuan for a wedding, but they also tend to be physically healthier and mentally more balanced.

How long will it be before attitudes change and we no longer live in a culture obsessed with the prospect and possibility of finding a partner and escaping the so-called lonely purgatory of singledom? Out of 365 days of the year, there is just one day that is dedicated to singletons around the world: Singles Day, which is celebrated on November 11th each year. However rather than ‘celebrating’ the day by weeping as they watch Jerry Maguire for the umpteenth time, or desperately searching for a last-minute date, these single people are encouraged to rejoice in their way of life. After all, single life enables one the freedom and opportunities that people in relationships only dream about, such as having the whole bed to themselves and not having to compromise when it comes to choosing restaurants or movies.

For these people, single is not a desperately sad status, but a word that describes a person who is strong enough to live and enjoy life without depending on others.


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